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Evaluating your Mental Health and Next Steps Forward

Evaluating your Mental Health and Next Steps Forward
In today’s article, we’re talking about mental health. Like with many other aspects of health, we see mental health as a meaningful and holistic endeavor. We’ll provide some definitions and frameworks to help you assess where you are right now in your mental health journey. We’ll go over different foundational aspects of mental health, and ways you can improve your health in each of these sections, depending on where you are and what resources or energy you have on hand.  There are many different philosophies and advice on mental health, but this article takes the perspective of evaluating and building on the strengths of your current mental health. It’s important to celebrate all the ways we’re currently showing up for ourselves) especially during these challenging past few years) while continuing to reflect and understand ourselves as we grow. There are a couple of various definitions of mental health. It is a nuanced and highly complex subject. (You can find a more comprehensive list of diagnostic tools, resources, and research on this resource by Social Work License Map. This article is just an introduction and starting point for celebrating good health. We want to start the discussion today and continue to create and offer helpful resources for mental wellness.  

The Definition of Mental Health 

Mental health includes the emotional, behaviorial, cognitive, and social aspects of our well-being. It’s about how we think, feel, act, relate, make choices, handle stress, and behave. It’s present and important in all stages of life, from early childhood through adulthood. It’s also sometimes used to mean the absence of a mental disorder or illness. There are many factors that contribute to mental health, including biological and experiential factors.   We appreciate how the World Health Organization (WHO) talks about mental health, recognizing it as more than just the presence or absence of mental health disorders:
  • Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders.
  • Mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health.”

Assessing Your Mental Health

Let’s take a moment now to ask a few questions.  What brought you to this article? Are you curious about the topic? Are you feeling encouraged and supported?  Are you feeling unhappy or anxious? Have there been unforeseen or stressful circumstances in your life recently? Are you feeling confused or overwhelmed about certain aspects of your life? It can be a good first step to ask yourself where you are in your feelings and evaluate potential reasons that may be contributing. Oftentimes, negative feelings can be triggered by subconscious thought patterns.  This will give you a good understanding of why you might be feeling certain things. It might help you consider how your environment, current challenges, or past choices might be playing into these factors.  Try to retell your story to yourself. Observe which parts have been or are painful, and see if you can rephrase them to be more validating.  Be kind to yourself and commit to holding your own hand kindly as you evaluate and reflect on various pieces of your lived experience.  A good way to center and encourage yourself before looking at these next steps is to think of a challenge that you successfully overcame in your life.  It doesn’t matter how big or small this event is, as long as you feel proud of how you handled it.  Next, we will look at some more tangible frameworks to help you structure your reflection and begin thinking of areas of potential growth.   

8 Pillars of Wellness

One recent qualitative assessment of wellness is the eight pillars of wellness.   Holistic health and wellness is sustained by eight pillars: physical, nutritional, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, financial, and environmental.  This is just a tool on your unique journey, not meant to be an end-all answer but to help you reflect on your needs and status quo.  You can learn more about each of the 8 pillars of wellness here and see some strategies to directly start applying them.  

Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Another framework we’d like to share is Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Mazlow presents a theory of different tiers of need, only when we fulfill the base layers can we move up and advance to higher levels.  He ranks them as physiological (survival needs), safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs.  You can read more about his Hierarchy of Needs theory, it is an interesting framework to evaluate aspects of need or growth in your own status quo.   

The Mind-Body Connection

A lot of modern wellness talks about the mind-body connection.  It’s shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy, yoga, and meditation can do wonders for your mind.  You can learn more about the biochemistry behind this in this article, as well as see an interesting example on the mind-body connection and practices to strengthen your mind-body connection. Having a toolset that incorporates some of these discoveries is valuable and can be applied to many different avenues.  

Physical Health

You’re probably not surprised that your mental health can often be intrinsically tied to your physical health and interplay in complex ways. Although having strong physical health can’t always combat mental health disorders on their own, it definitely helps you navigate life with more endurance. Eating the right foods will help with balancing the chemicals in your body, and exercising can help boost your moods and send positive signals to your brain. Although these strategies might not be a fix-all, taking small steps to improve how you nourish your body can definitely bolster other supplementary methods.  

Mental Disorders 

Mental disorders affect a certain percentage of the population, and it’s important to create awareness and destigmatize mental illnesses, as well as share effective methods for managing symptoms. You can learn more about each of the types of mental health disorders. NAMI describes mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, behavior, or mood that could be caused by multiple or interlinked causes, such as genetics, environment, and lifestyle.  Finding supportive groups or friends who have similar diagnoses is a great way to cope and learn effective methods of navigating different mental health challenges.  The most growing journey often begins with finding a therapist who is experienced in the field. Treating and gaining an understanding of mental illness is an important step to improving mental health.  Your therapist or general doctor might recommend you to a psychiatrist if certain medications could improve your treatment as well. They will ask you to fill out diagnostic evaluations, have conversations to understand your feelings and current needs and discuss various options for treatment. 

Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

There are a couple of different methods that fall under the general category of therapy. The purpose of therapy is to provide professional, specialized support in intentional growth, to help you dig into deeper parts of your life and past that are lingering and present.  Checking in with ourselves, learning to recognize thought patterns and unhealthy behaviors, or even seeking professional help and mentorship is a great way to boost mental health.  One popular and highly effective practice of therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT.) It’s a type of psychotherapy that helps you observe and address emotional challenges. Working with a therapist concurrently can help you determine the best solution for you, and keep in mind that solutions don’t have to be permanent. Solutions can also change and adjust to different chapters of your life. There’s a whole spectrum when it comes to the budget and intensity of therapy. It can range from self-guided DIY journals to intensive in-patient treatments for those severely distressed and unable to cope. We will elaborate on this later. We can’t always control what happens to us in our lives, but we do get to choose and practice what story we tell ourselves about it and how we choose to move forward. Therapy is a great tool to support you in this process.  

Creating Balance and Daily Maintenance of Mental Health

Mental health is a balance. Sometimes in life, we work more on one piece of our mental health, because timing, brain development, environment, and circumstance call for it.  Sometimes, we spend a stretch of years consistently working on another part that suddenly feels more urgent. Self-acceptance and self-love are crucial aspects of mental health and important for healthy development as we grow.  Creating peace within yourself will create the groundwork for building stability and healthy relationships around you.

Realistic Ways to Work on Mental Health- Creating Habits

A lot of times we push our mental health needs to the background and hope they will go away, but that can often create a build-up and more intense feelings.  Regular maintenance of mental health is a good way to prevent these extra stressful periods to happen.  Committing to consistent therapy and counseling can help guide you through the journey of building stronger and more lasting mental wellness.  Another useful option can be journaling or guided workbooks or mental health apps for the smartphone.  Taking a few minutes every morning or night to invest in a positive habit can be a small but meaningful way to show up for your mental well-being.  You can also dedicate a portion of your weekend, like a Saturday morning or Sunday evening, to create a dedicated practice of things that you know will make you feel calmer and encouraged for the week.

Interventions for Mental Health and Creating Transitions

Sometimes we find ourselves in states of elevated stress and low ability to cope with symptoms. This can be triggered by life events, biology, or the re-activation of triggers from earlier days.  At some levels, we can still grin and bear it and work hard at resetting our mental health to a more balanced state.  However, sometimes, we can go through circumstances or periods that feel like they are too overwhelming to deal with on our own. The CDC has a list of resources and hotlines with trained mental health professionals that you can access confidentially and for free. In these situations, we might have to face our mental health immediately and put it as a priority as we work through some of those difficult responses. In high-stress scenarios, it’s okay to take a few days off from work and share how you are feeling with people who support you.  If you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed, reach out to professionals and seek support. There’s even the option to look for more intensive treatments or care if you feel like you are really struggling. Another method could be to ask a trusted loved one to take a few days off with you to go somewhere relaxing for the weekend and let them know that you need some extra support while going through this.  When you’re feeling stuck in a rut or incredibly overwhelmed, these can often be periods where you grow the most even if it feels difficult. Sometimes, changing your environment drastically can be a much-need catalyst for feeling better or more clear-headed. It can be helpful to move or change your immediate circumstances if you feel like you really need it for your mental well-being.  It’s important to think through this carefully and make sure you have the resources and the means to feel supported while doing so, before making any big life changes. 

Taking Small Steps

Wherever we are at, one of the most effective things to get out of a rut is to accept our state and practice radical self-acceptance.  Take little steps and don’t feel pressured for colossal changes overnight. Adjust your goals and mindset, celebrate all the little wins to build yourself up.  The way we start our day has a big impact on how we feel for the rest of the day, so creating positive energy even by doing one small positive thing in the morning is a great start.  Sometimes in life, we feel like we’re flying, and in those times setting big goals can help add a gust of wind to our sails. Sometimes in life, we feel like we’re barely walking, and that is definitely normal and completely okay.  In those times, it’s more conducive to set smaller milestones and celebrate each step until we’re feeling more confident and grounded again.  Identify where you are, and know that it will be okay. We all face great times as well as challenges, no matter what it looks like on the outside or online.   

Free Ways to Work on Mental Health

Listening to Ted Talks on topics relevant to you, going to the public library and picking up reading that interests you, calling a friend or family member, attending community events, exploring your religion or spirituality, watching a feel-good movie, brainstorming on a blank white paper, looking for photos online that bring you joy, and more!  Again, each step forward in personal growth is so important and paves the path for better future habits. All the little steps pay off. It’s important to remember that it’s so normal to have negative and hard-to-deal-with feelings.  It can feel scary and overwhelming, but growing pains are normal and nobody is happy or will have perfect mental health throughout their lives.  Especially as we grow up and encounter new life experiences and phases of life, change can be scary or disappointing and we can find new types of problems popping up. By learning and applying new techniques, we are building our resilience and mental health skills to navigate new chapters.  If you have any suggestions for the community that has personally worked well for you, please share them in the comments down below.  We hope to continue discussing mental health in the following months through our various content as it is an important and complicated piece of overall well-being.  Are there any specific questions you have or content you’d like to see? Reach out to us with ideas or topics you’d like to see by emailing [email protected].  
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